Posts Tagged ‘tikit’

A Black Tuesday

Posted: June 16, 2016 in Accidents, Bikes

Black as in a bad bicycle accident, black as in bad luck, but lots of red as I was bleeding a lot. From the head. 2.30 pm. Tuesday 31st of May 2016.

Trying to recall the events in detail, 16 days later is no mean feat, but I’d like to think I am recovering well enough to remember every moment. There will be lots of words and graphic photos (from my dear wife’s phone cam) so be warned.

Running errands on my bikes have become second nature. Took out the 16in wheel Bike Friday tikit for a test ride, while getting a late lunch at 2 pm, sending my Coleen’s tights to a neighbourhood tailor, to be altered and then off to the supermarket for some supplies, seemed like another mundane bike ride. Job done in under an hour.

Those familiar with Bishan will know where the Bishan Loft Condo is. On Street 11. There’s a slight downslope to the left as one heads toward Braddell Road. A quiet neighbourhood street, with thankfully little traffic on a weekday afternoon. I crashed near the big tree in the photos, managed to pick myself up and walked to sit down under it.

I really can’t remember the moments before the crash. It happened in milliseconds. Was not speeding but bikes do pick up speed on a small downslope even. Looks like the long lock that was hanging in the bike’s front rack, crept slowly downwards onto the front wheel, got tightly jammed between the tyre and mudguard/fender, front V brakes and wheel dropouts.

Instantaneous stopping, strong enough to severely bent the front fork way inwards. At least that was what I saw after I picked myself up, and held a hand against the  right forehead as blood was gushing out from a deep cut there as well as the right nostril.

I could have hit the bike’s stem as there were blood stains there. Better designed stems have nice rounded shapes and NO sharp edges. I saw a pool of blood on the road and the bike about 10 feet ahead of that.

I came to realise what happened as I sat on the road, at the same time looking back to check for traffic coming around the bend and top of the hill outside the condo entrance. All cyclists do that.

I slowly stood up, and being able to do that was a relief, walking to a grass verge and asking strangers for help. Seeing my bloodied face, the first lady at the scene panicked and asked who to call. I remember telling her, ‘ambulance and police’. She saw me crash, parked her car and came to help. Another calmer woman, did the same. I asked her to take my bike and get it off the road. Plus I instructed her to unlatch the front Ortleib handlebar bag, as all my stuff including wallet and bank book was inside. All this while no traffic passed by.

Then God sent another angel to my aid. A man parked his car where I crashed, came to me and asked me to sit down and lean against a tree. ‘Dont worry, I am a medic’ He gave me a clean towel and told me to hold it against my head. I heard another passerby asking how he could help. Mr Medic asked for clean water and was given some to wet the towel and wash off any dirt. I heard their chatter saying something like the gash was about 1 cm deep and they could see ‘a bone’

He also checked the rest of my body especially the back, arm and leg movements as these areas are usually the parts to take the impact from a bicycle fall. Thankfully, I just had a slightly scraped right shoulder.

Ambulance and police arrived in about 10 minutes and Mr Medic briefed the ambulance crew. As fast as he appeared, I could not see his BMW. I can’t thank him enough. As well as the 2 ladies, who wanted to help in asking me to contact my relatives. Now traffic was starting to build up, cars and buses that normally ply this road quite heavily during peak hours.


4 yr old Limar shades, right lems missing from impact, left lens probably protected my left eye. $80 from a Muar bike shop, $150 in SG. I win again.

Now I know I was not going to leave this earth this soon, as I was able to give my wife’s contact number, my NRIC number and home address to the policewoman and ambulance crew. the police were kind enough to sent the battered bike to my home. Drop it with Mr Kumar, the day security guard at Lakeview. Done deal, no paperwork for them and no bike hunting for me later on, at some police station where the bike will surely rot. Plus I wanted to see what really caused the crash.

I had hit my right cheek real hard it seems. Scans later in the following days, showed 4 fractures there, another one above the right eyebrow and a small one above the left. Minor internal bleeding above the left temple but with a 1% chance of causing problems later on.

Different doctors were giving different opinions on my brain’s condition in the coming days, so I just took the most optimistic ones and left it in God’s hands. I did question the NS, neuro surgeons, plastic surgeons, ENT doctors quite a bit though, with the eye specialist giving the most reassuring answers to question about my brain and fractures even.

Lying and waiting in the A n E department of TTSH, I was told that both the police and ambulance crew had contacted my wife a few times. Timing wise, it was wiser to do that as I had to get to the hospital asap, and only then should she be informed. That would also give her maybe 2 to 3 hours of ‘worrying less’

Although I got cleaned up and treated at the A n E, it was a good 6 hours at least before I got to my hospital bed at past midnight. Silly me, thinking that I would get stitched up, stay a night and get discharged the next day. It took 8 days and 7 nights, and there were certainly good reasons for it.

Singapore’s A n E departments or emergency rooms, are notorious for overcrowding and my experience was no different. Beds are parked side by side, inches away from the next patient. Doctors and nurses scrambling and even running from place to place.

Seeing that I was left aside for long stretches of time, meant that there were much more serious cases to attend to. Got to count every blessing I had. After being cleaned up I was pushed into a more quieter but ‘high dependency’ section.  Off limits to visitors. A CT scan soon followed.

The airconditioning was  a plus here. I did ask for some water and that took an hour to arrive. At least a scurrying nurse remembered ! Coleen and I were able to communicate somewhat as she stood next to a sliding door that separated me n her from the ‘holding room’ of about 30 other people. She could see my legs only. And the water I asked for, from her was delivered in a minute via a nurse that was traversing between the 2 domains. Holding room and high dependency room.

I am very grateful and touched that Pastor Alvin and internet cycling friend Bob, showed up at the A n E. Not so much for me but to reassure Coleen that I was banged up but generally OK.  Bob a retired American Homeland security officer, now living in Thailand, with his Thai wife he met in California,  had to leave the country for 5 days before re-entering it. Something to do with his long term stay visa.

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Bob likes my sexy purplish eyeshadow ! Blah !

We had plans for lunch the next day, but that was obviously scuttled. Bob and another long time friend Peter, of Tiong Bahru No 7 fishball fame, saw me the very next morning. How they managed to get past security, official visiting hours and visitor screening is beyond me. Haha these guys are good !


A rich dude with a crappy phone cam !

In his own affable, OK sickening way, Peter told me that I looked like shit, real shit. Trained in sports medicine he told me of concussions, brain bleeding, strokes and comas, bruises and wounds. Blah blah blah. As he was not a real doctor, I did not take his teasing to heart. We have been teasing each other since 1991.

I’ve just got bruised eyes. He’s had a detached retina, ruptured tendons, and lately a slipped disc. Maladies that come with hero macho stuff. 180km real (silly) man off road runs in Vietnam, Hongkong and Thailand.

2nd day versus 15th day (of discharge)

God is on my side, he will never leave me. If no one is ‘for you’ who else can there be but God?  I am more than ready for my 120% restoration !

In fact Peter, please feel free to leave anytime. Haha. 120 minutes later he did. We had a really good chat. Me still in my bloodstained shorts and underwear from 18 hours ago. Bob had checked out of his Geylang hotel and made a decision to go to JB. As Peter was on his way to his second home to JB, I asked him to be useful and give Bob a ride too.

Bob’s planning to take a train to Woodlands and the a 170 bus across, is no fun even though thousands do it 24/7. I think Bob was most pleased he didn’t too. I shook his hairy hand firmly and thanked him for his visit, promising that the next time we meet, it won’t be in a hospital. A beach in Thailand would be just perfect. With wives in tow of course.


Precious friends. God like status to those bringing salty, spicy hawker food !

 In the following 7 days and nights a constant stream of friends dropped by, after hearing of my plight. Let me recall them, in no particular order of importance, length of friendship or what goodies they brought me. Well the bearer of 2 servings of wantan mee from Hong Lim Food Center, just one hour after my surgery, is the exception LOL.

Fishball Peter, Bob, Alvin and Celia, George and Wendy, KC, Ying Chang and Doreen, Kung Fu Peter, Joeel and Esther, Roland,  Betty, Christoph and Angkana, Sandra and Kelvin, Sandra’s sister, Matt Lee, Matt Chia,  An Dien, Constance and Pearlin.


Day 6

3 VVIPs stand out. My wonderful wife, the only person allowed to bathe me, and mum and dad in law, who came down from KL. MIL stayed 5 days to look after the nurse looking after me. Dad and Coleen were overjoyed also to find $300 on the floor, outside a money changers at Novena Square. Wished I was there too. God’s rewards continue to surprise us daily. That actually paid for other healing stuff in the pics below.

With such wonderful company, is was not difficult to heal well and fast. As the slew of medicines made up for most meals, I decided to forgo the painkillers, laxatives and what not. The nurses were surprised that there was no pain, but there wasn’t any, just numb swelling on one side of the face. Maybe a few nerves were traumatised but in this case, that was a very good thing.

The nights were however quite long. When everyone left, it was just me and my mind. And the noises that seemed OK in the day were magnified ten fold. Closing and opening of drawers, bins and even faraway chatter from the night staff. Sleeping at 10 pm and waking up at 2 am expecting and early dawn,  was de rigeur. Not a hint of daylight from the east.

Again God was generous. I had a bed by a window facing south and the city. Twinkling lights and very importantly, cool breezes. If fact it rained quite a bit in those 7 days, even in the daytime, making the non AC ward, most bearable even at noon.

My facial surgery was scheduled 4 days after the crash. the plastic surgeons were gung ho and ready to go. This was after the eye specialist said that surgery was a 50/50 option seeing that the fractures were ‘not severe’

We rejoiced for a day, until the chief neuro surgeon decided that my swelling was still pronounced and it would be better to wait till Monday to do it. So a weekend in hospital was certain. Again this was a God guided decision, as my right nostril was leaking moisture and blood each time I stood up and walked. Fed up, I just stuffed a tissue into it and cursed the devil ! I swore at him a lot.

Doctors were concerned that brain fluid might be leaking through the nasal passages also, as well my membrane was also ruptured at the forehead. They told me to keep watch. What do I know?  What does brain fluid look like?

Scary stuff like this bothered me for a minute or two. Sleep came easy with industrial strength earplugs from George. For about 3 hours.

Coincidentally, Friday night was also the worse in terms of stuff trying to leave my body. I woke up feeling something gagging in my mouth. Then I realised that it could be phlegm, from the nose. Hurried to the bathroom and lo and behold, a mouth full of coagulated, jelly like blood was dumped into the sink, followed by lesser red blood.

Gargling produced more diluted blood and I knew nothing else was coming up my throat, except for some tiny squiggly bits of gelatin like residue stuck onto some teeth. There satan, you go play with that and choke on it.

Went back to bed and slept instantly. Don’t want to think too much. The weekend came and went by quickly. Not because of more rest, but the larger than normal crowds of visitors for all 5 patients in the ward. On a hilarious note, I got to befriend an ex soldier now down with diabetes and back problems which might require surgery.

A tough, bald Singaporean Malay man who of all things, ‘offered’ me some char siew pau (red pork dumplings) once I got back from surgery early Monday morning. Right.

I knew he was the ward jester after facing and looking at his toes across from my bed, for almost a week. Each time he stood up, he would come around all of us to take orders for beer and burgers, but he only got as far as the toilet.

D Day was on Monday, just 7 days after the crash. Managed to clear my bowels twice without laxatives. It was bright and early at 7.30 am. I think the nurses and doctors were more excited than me. I wanted to sleep some more. Wheeled into the icy cold, operating theatre at 8.00, and the action started at about 9.00. Got gassed and next thing I knew, I was in a hallway at 11.00. Done.

Drenched in sweat and heart racing like a road bike in the Tour de France. Possibly 150 bpm. Everything was over. Calmed myself down, as I felt my bed rolling back to my ward on the 10th floor. No painkillers again, but I had to deal with a different set of stitches, swelling and bruises from the operation, not so much the crash.

Deep down inside there was this desire to ‘reign over’ any obstacle, any pain. Thankfully only numbness prevailed. Pain was plucked out by it’s roots and tossed into the sea, so to speak.

The promise of a discharge, and giving up my bed of 7 nights to someone more deserving, the next day was reward enough for me.


Through the wonders of Dr Google and FB this is the man, Dr Sam, responsible for my quick and painless surgery. God bless you and your guiding hands !

Day 18. I found out later that incisions were made at the left eyelid, right eyelid, right eye socket or orbital floor and inside the mouth, for the plastic surgeon to access and look at the fractures, and inject a polymer compound including some screws of the same, that will help to hold the fractures together and aid in bone growth where the cracks were. 100% bone healing would take about 6 months to a year.

Removing the stitches, the surgeon was most pleased that my bruising was fast disappearing, but more so was very proud of his work in that the stitching left no visible scars. What a nice guy to talk to and ask a myriad of questions.

Apparently the layman’s idea for such surgeries would be titanium implants and screws but aside from being beeped by airport scanners, titanium is a permanent, while people are not, as with age facial features and bone start to shrink, causing more problems. Like having surgery again to remove or realign titanium plates a few years down the road. Ouch!

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16 year old Oakley Frogskins came in handy. Don’t want to scare too many kids that I bump into outside of home.

During a follow up session 3 weeks later, I took a quick photo from a computer screen when both doctor and nurse were not around.

The technical terms are grim to the layman. Lots of fractures, but good news too.

1.   Acute SDH with possible acute SAH as described. No mass effect, midline shift or hydrocephalus.

2.   Comminuted depressed right frontal vault / superior orbital rim fracture is seen with underlying pneumocephalus

3.   Numerous facial bone fractures are seen, including bilateral orbital lateral walls,  right lamina papyracea, bilateral sphenoid sinus walls, right maxillary sinus all walls, right orbital floor fracture involving the intra orbital foramen, bilateral and right medial plerygoid plates, right zygomatic arch, left zygomatic body, comminuted nasal bone fracture, medial aspects of left squamous temporal bone, involving the foramen spinosum, bilateral planum sphenoidale, right sphenoid body and wing, right maxillary alveolar ridge.

4.   Emphysema is seen in both orbits, the sella and both cavernous sinuses. There is no extra-ocular muscle herniation or entrapment. Blood is seen in bilateral maxillary and sphenoid and right ethmoid sinuses. The globes are intact. The mastoid air cells are unremarkable.

‘Unremarkable’ and ‘resolved’ Very good words to hear.


More than just a fancy book title, the island’s swankiest highland village has morphed into a must visit for every visitor. New hands will go ga ga over the town’s market square and shopping. Having just an hour or so to do that, they buy up handicraft and trinkets by the bus load, before returning to their buses and day tours of the exotic Balinese countryside.

Old hands watch and ponder, from a discreet restaurant, hey we were like that once maybe 20 years ago. Me? I try to avoid the place like the plague, but then again like the book says, the place is a ‘mood’ Catch it in your right ‘mood’ and soon you’ll be an old hand, never wanting to leave, save for the odd bicycle ride into the countryside. Useful things those state of the art bicycles.

Sublime sunrises

Dinner mood just after sunset (spot our wheels)

Ubud’s market is a real market before the daily transformation. Locals hustle and bustle for their daily needs from as early a 5 am. Messy, grimy and with suspicious odours. I’ve yet to enter  their deep dark and dank below road level areas. You hear the odd gripes about rising prices and shrinking portions. Locals buying in bulk seem to do so for their businesses mostly restaurants. They’ll pass the costs on to their customers.

On one very hot morning, wife is thirsty and insists on a cooling coconut drink. I am quoted Rp 30 k for one. No point haggling, it’s almost US$4.00. We walk away and the price drops to 20 K. I cross the street to a local warung and get a cut up coconut. Rp 10 K. I’m sure the locals pay less, but the thing to note here  is she’s thirsty and water wont do.

Come sunlight and say after 9 am, the produce market changes into the tourist market. This is a good time to be there. Mess cleaned up quickly and in it’s place, neatly laid out souvenir stalls waiting for the huge white tourists buses from the south to disgorge their contents.

My mood insists that I make a last visit on the very last day of each trip. People watching at it’s best. Plus photo ops galore. Intelligent mood dictates that we find our lodgings as far away from the town center as possible, which we cleverly do. And of course having a folding bike handy really beats walking 2000 metres just to get lunch or dinner or a new bikini.

A bikini shop in the heart of Bali's artistic and cultural universe

Seen at Periplus Books, not the Ubud library, there's none

Human beings being made monkeys of, at the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. On a bicycle get there before 0800 hrs and you save Rp 20,000 as the ticket guy isn't there yet

He's in a hungry mood

BBQed honey coated and roasted ribs @ Naughty Nuri's Warung. We couldn't get a table at 3.15 pm. Unlike the poor kid in the bus, we got to smell it !

Ibu Oka's babi guling in Ubud. 8 whole pigs are sold in a day at this one tiny stall. There are others ??

Go pig out

Or better still, go cycling

Behind this bucolic scene at the Ubud Palace's lotus pond, there are 2 dozen tourists wanting a photo of pink flowers

A more private moment in someone's garden

Happy moods are the best 😉

yes, whatever works for you.....

I once did a tally of the days and nights I’ve spent in Ubud. It added up to 62. That was in 2000, so that figure is severely outdated. There’re lots more, hidden somewhere in my trip diaries, waiting to be counted.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just double that figure. East Bali and Amed is looking good these days. It’s peaceful, quiet and with a spider web of roads and trails waiting to be to be explored on a mountain bike. It could just be the next place to stay a while.

From a previous post on food, it’s also possible to dine in a different restaurant everyday for a month in Ubud, but we now know the good from the less good  (thankfully we were spared the bad ones)

We will leave the island soon, and with the impending departure, the mood is sombre as we have to deal with traffic, immigration and crowds at the air port.

Our road trip was getting a touch predictable as we stuck to the main roads for fear of the ‘dreaded potholed village road, I think it’s this way shortcuts’ Funny we never had this kinda problem when cycling, as well, when cycling villagers seem more friendly are more open to ‘let’s help the poor silly touris suffering on their bicycles’ Not that driving was that bad really. It was just getting to be ‘same same’ (a Thai invented phrase actually)

Heck we have two foldies in the back enjoying the bumps and views too. After a week, the car did 715 kms and my tikit did 208 kms (100ks of which, after the car was returned) The Cappu, well, does not have an odometer.

Onwards to Bali’s far east are a string of fishing villages lining the coast on the driest part of the island. A small broken road circles the half blown off top and massif of Gunung Seraya, with dizzying views of the Straits of Lombok. This is a great 50 kms road to cycle across, and yes I did it in both directions during my lifetime.

Almost a decade ago there was pretty much nothing here, except for the Vienna Beach Bungalows and restaurant, a most unBalinese operation that catered to those wanting to get away from it all. The attraction along this coast was and is like Pemuteran 140 km in the west coast, snorkelling, diving and sailing. The area is as lost as one can get in Bali without heading out on a jukung/outrigger to Lombok.

As usual we had no reservations. With new resorts popping up like mushrooms after heavy rains, we soon deduced that the going rate for a newish place, plus AC, hot showers and breakfast for 2, was about Rp 200 K (US $25) and highly negotiable in this low season.

These were in season and I had to succumb after 7.5 days

Fleeing the dreaded dark cloud of moisture

Da beach of black volcanic sand

Where we stayed, they have just 2 rooms, with No 3 under construction

The usual places to stay were becoming ‘too famous’ with rave reviews from travel websites and the all knowing Looney Planet. Sadly some were suffering the ill effects of being too well known and service and standards were not up to par with their ever increasing room rates. Well they had a good run and had a lot of my custom especially  when we show up with a group of 10 perpetually hungry mountain bikers in tow. With the popular spots in Bali, there’s always a new hotel or restaurant to try out. It all depends on how much effort you put in to find them.

With your own transport/AC car, it’s a miniscule malady. Park car and ask wife to go out and check rooms/prices. On a bike trip, wife hides in the shade while, after many many kms, hubby climbs more stairs in SPD shoes to make enquiries. Can’t win them all, I guess.

View from the balcony

Cloud watching (great alternative to slow/no wifi)

As we were 30 minutes too early for lunch at 12 noon, a kiasu S'porean coyly copied 10 jazz remixed CDs into I tunes.

Sails Restaurant along Lean Beach is the place where other hotel and restaurant bigwigs come to dine,  We spent many a daylight hour there, and one rain soaked dinner (a first for us) after which we had to drive back in the dark through flooded streets and across one river bed, which was not there a few hours ago. It was after all the ‘dry season’ of late April. In retrospect, it was better that the car got soaked than our bicycles.

3 cars = 15 diners, quick run !

Over polarized restaurant views

Boss wife and boss lady of restaurant


Hers (it's fishy)

His again, obviously (mucho porky)

New World Tourists (those are the bike models from Bike Friday) The couple from England were almost dehydrated

A fully loaded tourer enjoying his 30 kms of down hills

Mrs :  “Wow, 2 guys on touring bikes and rolling downhill at that ! Aren’t you jealous ??”

Me :    “Do you have to rub it in ??”

Mrs :  “What happened to your plan of cycling down hill while I drive ?”

Me :    “You didn’t offer to drive?”

Mrs :   “You didn’t ask enough”

Me  :    “I thought I did !”

Mrs :   “Yes but you said that the clutch was ‘low or loose’ and the hand brake’s broken and………that I navigate well since  you can’t read the small small prints on the map”

Me :     “Don’t really need a map yeh, it’s all in here (points to head)

Mrs :     “Don’t trust my driving??”

Me  :      (very softly) “Uh huh”

In retrospect we’ve done all the down hills we’ve cared to do on other trips, but as I wonder now, with a tinge of regret, how fast would a Bike Friday tikit roll before I am reminded of my mortality ? I guess we will never know…..

Lazy mammals

Not too shabby a view from our porch. Pity the sunshine was in short supply, then again it was just 7.30 am

My new big toy. The place does not have fans or air conditioning, as the sea breezes always blow in once the sun is up, our host reassured us. Boy was he right, we checked out at a very late 1.00 pm after my kite felt tired. In the next bungalow, there's a Japanese tourist sweeping the floor with a broom that comes with each room. Wonder if she'll do ours ?

Far off the beaten track lies a little gem, best reached with your own transport or much nicer on a touring bicycle,

We wanted to stay 2 nights, but alas, our room was booked for the second day and we had to scoot ;-( (we did stay 2 nights back in 2008)  They have a constant flow of Japanese clientele to fill their 4 rooms, as the Balinese owner’s wife is Japanese. That explains the Zen like touches in the lush garden and a black volcanic stone hot tub in a corner, and a large manga collection in their library.  GS is in Desa (village) Ababi and we passed through Desa Budakeling (an as the crow flies short cut across a few semi dry river beds)  In Malay, those names are quite funny. 😉

Next stop. Amed by the Straits of Lombok, and a scenic and shady down hill section that goes on forever…..sigh…

The line's maxed out at 800 metres (and my camera's zoom at 210 mm)

Tirtagangga's endless rice fields

The straits of Lombok in bad weather

Turn on your speakers, courtesy of the Geria Semalung folks,

So much better light in the afternoon

This day is before the big bridge adventure. We drove into some very familiar hills, clove, cocoa, coffee and nutmeg country. It was only 60 plus kms and that made for a very slow drive. Before that, a very late start, meaning more cycling time, a dip in the sea, then pool and an almost 2 hour lunch in the quaint town of Seririt. Every small Indonesian town must surely have a small Chinese population. Meaning the possibility of getting Chinese food. Seririt is no exception. Small mom and pop shops, a goldsmith or two, and yes a restaurant down a small lane.

My co driver (who didn’t drive at all) was a bit apprehensive at the cleanliness or lack there of, for such an establishment. Never fear I said. I think I dined here in 1991, and have already spotted at least one renovation. There’s a new signboard by the entrance. ‘Such and such a resto, since 1955’ It was here or some other street side stall with cold food and flies for company. As it turned out simple noodles and rice and some veggies were quite good and one quarter the price of eating in touristy Ubud. And yes, the grainy, unfiltered Kopi Bali was spectacular, I had seconds.

An open concept kitchen, great for seeing hands being used for everything, including tasting !

Our newish old Dutch style house in the hills of Munduk. The room was cosy (@ 980 m asl) and the garden, very lush.

Packing cloves for export in Munduk. It's a prime ingredient in some Indo cigarettes

Sunset was a non event for the camera because of a heavy downpour

Sunrise was much better

This morning will be etched in my memory forever, as it was about this time or so 7 am on Saturday 30th April that Paul Lim passed away, and I was up and about looking the the skies trying to capture a crimson sunrise. It was about 18 deg C, the mountain air crisp and refreshing. Paul and I and some friends were mountain bike touring in this very same village way back in 1995, and had to cool of our rims and brakes by dunking the wheels in a rushing stream.

Open the room door and this awaits, the Balinese Pyrenees

Hidden hamlets of north Bali

An old timer's house and car in Munduk

Looking at the scenery and potential for long walks and climbs through the rice fields, one would need at least 3 days in these hills, enjoying the cool rarefied air, but we had done that on previous trips, so a single night with the sounds of a heavy down pour (definitely a first for us) was quite adequate to get reaquainted with Munduk. We had invitations to a village wedding that was going to last 5 days, but politely declined, as we were leaving on the 1st day when only the decorations were being put up. It would have been quite spectacular if we had arrived on the 4th or 5th day.

Coffee cherries

Tanah Barak (red rock) waterfalls after heavy rains. 5 minutes in this water and hypothermia is a given

Lake Tamblingan overflowing, it's temple and surrounding villages inundated. I was knee deep in the icy waters on the village road and made those ripples

Lake Buyan at 1200 m. According to some Balinese friends, it has been raining for the past year !

Next to Bali’s famed beaches, the hills and mountains in the centre of the island are a visual treat if one really goes of the beaten track. The usual tourist spots and view points may be amazing for the first timers but we’ve seen better on our bikes, and this time I really wanted to travel on the road that Lonely Planet 2011 plainly proclaims ‘The Road That’s Never Travelled’ (RTNT) In fact if you have a driver it’ll take some persuasion to get him to try 30 kms of mountain roads that straddles 2 big mountain ranges.

Steep and potholed

Might as well get a map and DIY, although I had second thoughts when exiting a nice smooth main road and  into deep, dark and steep potholed roller coaster country roads that threatened to wreck the car’s ageing suspension, but we had a full tank, our bikes are strapped tight and we prayed a lot. Seeing that the odd old mud splattered Honda Civic that passed by occasionally, that boosted my confidence somewhat. Some inclines were so steep, it was 1st gear all the way, slipping and sliding. sending bits of rock and debris to anyone silly enough to be too close behind us. After half a dozen or so deep ravines, we got to the village of Petang and smooth roads. I recognised the junction to the bridge and only in Bali would a bridge of such proportions be a venue for kids on motorcycles on a Saturday. Cars and bike parked by the side and hawkers selling snacks and corn on the cob.

The 'bridge'

The RTNT comes in handy as a shortcut too as I didn’t want to drive south for 40 kms and then head north another 30 kms just to get to our destination, Lake Batur. Part of the RTNT is Bali’s highest road bridge that was completed in 2007. It connects two mountain villages of no particular significance save for those wanting to drive from the Bedugul and Lake Bratan highlands to the Kintamani and Lake Batur area, and vice versa. Before that, in 2006, I remember cycling into the deepest ravine ever on the island and that took 2 hours to ride out off on the other side.  The bridge was still under construction, it’s massive foundations rising out of the jungle floor. I had started from Ubud at 7 am and did not get back till 6 pm. Another fun recce 110 kms by bicycle first, before attempting a drive through.

A sight to behold, just halfway in to Bali's deepest ravine. Sept. 2006

There's a broken road and a small concrete bridge down there, somewhere

Past Pelaga and Catur, a region of endless coffee plantations, the road joins up with the north south Kintamani route with it’s views of Mt Batur’s 3 volcanic cones and Lake Batur. It started to rain and our views were at best, cloudy and foggy. Down by the crater lake shore there’s a myriad of off road trails into the lava fields. My mission for the next morning was to rediscover one that led to the Bali Aga village of Trunyan, nestled deep under the vertical mountain walls of the crater.

Kedisan village 0700 hrs

Ooops, Can the 16 inch wheels make it ?

After 11 bone jarring kms, Trunyan village with it's new water front promenade

Trunyan is one of many Bali Aga villages spread out over Bali. Most are in remote and hard to reach spots like this, and any outsider can be spotted miles away, even other Balinese,  and especially one with a small green folding bike. The Bali Aga are the island’s original people, distinct from the modern Balinese who came over from Java centuries ago. One of their burial rites and rituals is to leave their dead corpses exposed under a holy banyan tree. Apparently there’s no smell of rotting flesh and kids play with the skulls and bones. Jungle animals aren’t even interested, This is totally abhorrent to other Balinese who have elaborate cremation and sending off ceremonies. Needless to say, Trunyan’s cemetery has been milked dry for it’s tourism ‘potential’ ie $$$.

Mention Trunyan to other Balinese folk and you get 30 minutes of negative comments.

With the new access road, many of the village boatmen who used to charge tourists exhorbitant fees, are not a happy bunch.  The tourists still arrive, as the marketing and publicity for the place can be found in many a hotel lobby. I spent a whole 15 minutes there, snapping away, and the tikit was great for quick getaways each time a villager sized me up, “Where are you from, where are you going, I bring you to see cemetery, have fresh dead body”

Another steep one. 20 years ago this was a rocky foot path, where even our mountain bikes had trouble inching forward. Gradients remain the same.

The 11 km ride back was just as strenuos, but felt a bit faster like all out and back rides do. My ageing tikit does not have a front derailluer but with a smaller 42 T front chainring, I managed to ride up most of the tops of this roller coaster lakeside road.

During many moments of quiet contemplation (I was so early many villagers were not quite up yet) I still could not believe that Paul was gone. We decided on lunch back in Ubud,  just 30 downhill kms away, where we could get wifi and catch up on any news. There were many and after 2 hours nursing a latte in AC comfort, we drove off with heavy hearts to the extreme east of Bali to Tirtagangga, a romantic name for Water of the Ganges. India was continents away, but the Balinese Hindus know how to glorify their ‘water palaces’

Mt Batur 1717 m, rarely seen from the opposite shore

0930 hrs. It's time to wake someone up and get breakfast, I am starved

Mythical pools of clear mountain water, with ornate fountains and statues where the kings harem would bathe, while the king would ponder and decide on which one would be his company for the night. Today it costs Rp 5000 a pop, to gawk at the maiden-less pools. Pay a little more and you can even swim in the ‘tourist pool’ where freshwater crabs will nibble at your feet. It’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon in the boondocks of Bali contemplating a life without wifi, cellphone coverage and being a sardine in a subway train.

The tourist pool at Tirtagangga Water Palace

Having done five bike tours of Bali together, we knew which roads were a joy to ride and which were best avoided. The gravity defying potholed  ones. How would we get around then ? We paid a visit to Nyoman Merta Jaya. CEO and sole proprietor of Three Brothers Car Rental along Monkey Forest Road in Ubud. Renting a car in Bali is more like having tea with a long lost friend. Chit chat with  coffee and cake first (abt 30 mimutes) and signing on the dotted line, 1/2 minute.

Insurance you ask ? There’s none. Well the first US$500 of damage is on the renter/tourist. Anything more serious/fatal ? At all costs, do not go to the police if possible. Call Three Brothers ASAP, they have their own ‘police team’ Ha ha. So in Bali, I never drive more than 60 kmp/h not that the traffic or terrain will allow anything more.

The car is delivered the next day by Mr CEO himself, as he collects a cool million rupiah, or all of SG$145 for 7 days rental, ie. cheaper than cheap. After all we do go way back to 1990. It’s a 6 year old  Toyota ‘Avanza’  It is old for a rental car. Scratches and small dings at all four corners. It rattles now and then, but the tyres are new, and traction and braking is more vital than speed.

The spring catch for the hand brake pops out at first touch. During the next week of driving, or rather parking, a can of Coke propped up under the hand brake works too, and our jalopy doesn’t roll off any mountains. The rear door/hatch creaks to high heaven. Dogs will howl when I open it to get to our folded bikes at 6.45 am, but what a good but irritating alarm the creaking door is too.

0645 hrs. 20 deg C. Bowels cleared. Time to ride !
A green corridor at Bali Barat (West) National Park

I’ve never driven the west coast roads once, through the major, nome too clean towns of Tabanan, Negara and Gilimanuk. so what better time than now (to check if it’s ridable) It’s not quite, in fact with heavy truck and bus traffic around some quiet, but very narrow winding stretches are down right dangerous. We witnessed a few close shaves, when even cars had to get off the road, as might is right here. The annual Tour of Indonesia does a stage from end to end along this inter island highway, but they do race on closed roads. Any cyclists heading to or coming from Java will have a better time riding the flatter northern coast road with much lesser traffic.

After reaching the western tip of the island and seeing the huge East Javan volcanoes of Merapi and Ijen, we headed back inland, east along the north coast and what a difference, through a National Park that was fresh and green. It had been a very wet, ‘dry’ season last year, and this was to be our wettest trip yet. It was only 125 kms, but that covered two thirds the length of Bali.

With the longest drive done on the 1st day, Pemuteran, a little known village, was our first pit stop. Little known because it’s too far from the southern tourist beaches, so only a 100 m stretch of guesthouses serving the diving community has blossomed here in recent years.  In the middle of relative nowhere, there’s also the Matahari resort with US$200 a night villas by the sea. Our new room came with a much saner price of $35 and an almost private pool.

All the tourists have gone snorkeling or diving, so I have it pretty much to myself 😉
Lucky us, a spanking new month old room and the last available one at that

All needs covered except the cycling part

Boat building at Pemuteran, north Bali and not a taxi tout in sight

The attraction here is all below water

The first of 14 Balinese sunrises, stunning !

You’d think that after 20 trips to this island that I’d have no trouble writing about, but I do. There are so many alluring facets to Bali that some visitors never leave. I am not one of them as I am discerning. Lately though, paradise is showing it’s pitfalls. I thought I had mastered the art of avoiding those. Many trips on all manner of bicycles, since (gasp) 1989, also meant that any maps I brought were rarely used. Peering into a map is a sure sign of being a tourist, and a lost one at that.

And the Balinese, any Balinese who has something to sell you can spot a tourist miles away. Heck they can even eavesdrop, from 20 feet away, and try to ‘help’ you with any ‘problem’ usually a destination you need to get to, in a flash. In Ubud, (with the beach 30 kms away and touts less persistent) while we were mentioning in passing the name of a certain cafe that we had read about, some guy runs from across the street, shouting the name of that cafe and ‘can help’ in driving us there !

Others flash nice laminated A4 sized notices proclaiming ‘taxi’ ‘transport’ with nary a word, less the visitor feels vexed, though having such cards flashed in your face 20 times a day and on every street corner is going to take it’s toll. We were flashed, even as we cycled by. So having a bicycle won’t stop some persistent career cab drivers (taxi is a real misnomer as all are privately registered cars or worse, borrowed. Insurance? What insurance?)

Grandmaster moonlighting as a taxi driver
Ubud is a Mood (also a book title)

We spent many an hour with the elevated views from our room at one of the rare guesthouses that still has a rice field view, and doesn’t gouge you with US$ rates. We knew that they had a new wing, meaning new rooms from our last visit in 2008. We also knew that the ‘new wing’ of 7 rooms took almost 10 years to build. First the foundations, a stairway and some (not all) walls and a very mossy tiled roof went up. Then some men came to dig up a huge hole 10 feet deep, presumably for the septic tank and human waste.

3 years later, ‘some’ rooms were ready, others nicely painted but empty, waiting for matresses and lamps. We were in time for the grand ‘completion’ ie, positioning of beds, mattresses/linen and connecting of the lamps. Boy they do take their time on this island. As yet 3 rooms remained unfurnished. Their reservation form works though. You might get your room, IF Widya, (a svelte Balinese woman whose family owns the place amongst rmany other properties) has passed on your reservation to one of Warji’s House caretakers. (In our case, she didn’t! :-()

Another dawn before the sun breaks
Zoomed in view of Mt Agung, (3712 m), again from our room

A decade in the making, but it was new and spacious. 2 nights were marred by a larger than life, French mother and daughter chain smoking tag team. (next door) Seeing my disgust, they were kind enough to smoke in their room with their doors and windows boarded up, but presumably to enjoy their haze even longer

A group of Thai tourists on their first trip to Bali. I thanked them for checking out and letting us have their room. What a loss as they don’t smoke, and were a cheery bunch

The latest bugbear this trip must be the incessant traffic of motorcycles, which any can be had for a low Rp 14 million / US$1500 for a Made in China 2 wheeler. Ist payment is a measly Rp 500K / US$60. All traffic increases 15% yearly, while road capacity stay the same, with just more potholes after each rainy season.

Hey dude, where's my bike ?

Bali is being swamped with tourists. I think, 1.5 million each year. It’s bursting at the seams in the tourist enclaves, the southern beaches. Ubud is well on it’s way too, but I still have a few secret places left to reveal or revel in. That usually happens once we get out of even Ubud, and into the mountains and the northern coast.

Most were discovered from cycling, and trashing the rental car through bath tub sized potholed country roads. Long conversations with a few Balinese friends known since the early 90’s helped too. One is the director for rural road works and a keen cyclist. How very convenient. Another  is the car rental company boss turned village headman / problem solver and marriage solemniser with good ‘family’ connections with the police. Some nights were looooong on this trip. 😉

Chucked in the garden of Warji's, I spotted a 'performance' MTB. Michael, a native of Hawaii, spends 4 months a year in Bali..... when he's tired of cycling in Hawaii. What a dilemma ! Where can I get/buy such a dire predicament ??

Urrgh ! Get back to work !

We’re headed to Bali again. I’m trying to recall my past trips and bikes involved from memory. I’m sure of the years, not so much the months that I visited Bali, so here goes…..

What a paradise for pedaling 2006

Feb 1989    Bridgestone MB 3

May 1990 *

July / Aug 1991   Bridgestone MB 3

May 1992   Bridgestone MB 1 / 5

Aug 1992   Bridgestome MB 1 / 5

April 1993   Bridgestone MB 1

June 1995   Ti Lust MTB

Nov 1995   Ti Lust MTB

June 1996 *

Sept 1996   Ti Lust MTB

May 1998 *

Nov 1999   Ti Lust MTB / Silver MTB

At Penelokan 1717m in 1999

Aug 2000   Ti Lust MTB

April 2001   Santa Cruz Heckler

May 2002   Diamond Back MTB

Oct 2002   Ti Lust MTB

April 2003   GT Zaskar MTB / Miss Marin MTB

May 2006   KHS Alite MTB / Miss Marin MTB

Aug 2008   Sutly LHT / Miss Marin MTB

April / May 2011   BF tikit / KHS Coffee bike, really. Plus one 3 m wide stunt kite with an 800 m line !

* Denotes trips without a bicycle, what was I thinking ?

Feeding time 2003

the bridge looks familiar

There's a waterfall at the end of a 7 kms hike through this valley. We managed 500 meters before the 'belakang pusing' (about turn in Malay)

No prizes for guessing that it was wet and muddy in August ! Doesn’t really matter if you’re the indoor type, but with mountains and dirt trails all around, mountain biking or even mere morning walks through scenic countryside will surely turn into a mud fest. And not too long ago back in August and September of 2005, the  Pai valley,  parts of it being an alluvial plain were hit by devastating floods which brought down tons of mud, rock and debris from the surrounding mountains. Imagine a small stream no wider than a road turning into a force of nature, wiping out river banks, houses and cars in one fell swoop. Two actually. Long time Pai resident, Chris P. an American has a very detailed blog here,

We visited Pai again 6 months later in early 2006 and the effects of those floods were still evident. The locals had a secluded dumping ground, in a forested area where heaps of broken and rotting wood, construction debris and the odd rusting car were kept hidden away from visitors’ eyes. Guest houses by the river that were swept away in the night, showed exposed plumbing and even toilet bowls. Amazingly no one drowned or were reported missing. No one with a Thai ID or foreign passport at least. At the fancy River Corner Resort where we stayed in 2003,  4 bungalows by the river were gone. In it’s place was a new and wide riverbank with concrete slabs, presumably a car park.

Remains of a bridge over troubled water

The tourist dollar that this mountain town attracts meant that rebuilding bridges across the Pai river and even new guesthouses, is a yearly or more affair. Competition is fierce amongst the trinket shops, massage places, restaurants and hotels. Ironically we did not see any of this hustle and bustle this time round.  It looked like the Pai of 2002 when 10 of us went mountain biking there. The low season has it’s rewards. Room rates discounted at 50% or more, absolutely no crowds, unlike the thousands thronging the streets at year’s end, and business owners who actually had the time to talk to you, instead of just nodding grumpily, overworked but with tills and pockets overflowing with $$$.

Our relatives who were in Pai for the first time could not see what the fuss was all about. I don’t blame them, coming from a place like Melbourne, this was the absolute Thai boondocks, 4 streets, 2 traffic lights, sleeping dogs in the streets, wooden houses and some resorts in the countryside.  In 2 hours of slow driving around we had seen the whole place / town / valley  that was drivable.  I’ve been to Pai 8 times, and with the right mountain bike and weather, a month or so would be just right to ride my tyres bald. Occasional wifi would be nice (it’s the norm now)  but, I’d be too busy exploring the valley and spider web of dirt trails that dot the hills here. Amazing Thb 600 / US$20 low season rates

In the Shan Burmese lingo, Pai actually means, migrate or simply, GO. In the last 10 years, the changes have been so radical that some bewildered locals have packed up and left. They literally went after caving in to big city investors whose offers for their land and homes were too tempting to refuse. No doubt some left unwillingly, instant millionaires or not. The resorts here are owned by big city folk to cater to big city folk. We saw Pai’s newest resort to top them all.  The Montis is an African themed safari like place by the highway. 6 star luxury @ Thb 10,000 / US$300 a night. 2 fake straw giraffes in the lobby to greet you. Empty car park.

Mamacharis for rent in Pai

At just 500 m above sea level the Pai valley is not Aspen, Colorado but the year’s end cool season when nights can get down to 5 deg C is a big draw for Thais, clothed in winter wear, even when the noon day sun heats everything up to 32 deg C.  Cats and dogs are decked out in knitted vests. Then came the movie makers. To date 4 romantic comedies or rom-coms have been filmed in Pai, so now everyone who’s hip and in the know, can say they’ve seen the movies and been to Pai, Mae Hong Son Province. Whilst cycling the tikit in search of a jok (rice porridge breakfast)  I came across 2 Thais on their Vespas.

They too knew of the high season mayhem and decided to ride their scooters 250 kms from home in Lampang, rain or shine, (mostly rain) in search of saner room prices of Thb 300 in August. They agreed that the slower pace of life in this town was an attraction, but apart from that there was nothing else much to do. That was the whole point of the ‘old Pai’  Hand made hammocks sell well here. That and bikinis knitted by the same two grandmothers in front of their homes, since the last millenium. There’s also a sizable Muslim community in town and their grand mosque sits behind 2 rows of shop houses that they  lease out to the trinket / tourist shops. The 2 Muslim bakeries in ‘town’ also cater to a handful of non Thai residents yearning for something other than rice or noodles.

Where can I get a sign like that ?

What of the backpackers and Lonely Planet crowd who first discovered Pai?  Seasoned hands have left save for a few diehards who have matrimonial or property ties to Pai.  Ex PM Khun Thaksin’s war on drugs must have played a part too as the availability of certain special weeds dried up, or were channeled elsewhere in the Kingdom. The Burmese border is close by and my friend Paul and I have first hand encounters with the Border Police.

See what a slice of Pai and good ol’ mountain biking can get you into ?

I guess another cappuccino wont hurt !

Yours truly watching the rice grow in Jan 2003